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Eliminate the College

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By Optic Editorial Board

Understand that this is being written before Tuesday’s election results, so we don’t know the outcome at the time of this writing. For all we know, one of them could have won the popular vote but not enough electoral votes, making his opponent the victor in a bifurcated election. It happens — see the 2000 election, when Al Gore won the popular vote and George W. Bush won the Electoral College.

That’s what we want to write about on this day-after day — that antiquated relic of an 18th century solution called the Electoral College. We’d like to see it dissolved.

For those who never quite understood the Electoral College, here’s a quick explanation: It’s the institution that officially elects the president and vice president. When this nation was putting together its Constitution, it wasn’t practical to allow for popular elections, so they created a process in which each state was given the same number of electors as they have representatives and senators in Congress, and in most cases the entirety of those electors go to the candidate who wins that state. Such a process was written in as Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, then later refined in the Twelfth Amendment — and the nation has been electing its presidents and vice presidents in this manner ever since.

In 1787, when the Electoral College was first approved at the Constitutional Convention, it made sense. The nation was primarily rural and growing westward, communications were slow, and a workable process was needed to select the chief executives. But now, it has come to undermine the democratic process. With the Electoral College in place, one-person-one-vote is a myth.

The Electoral College process distorts the nation’s presidential elections. In this election, for example, voters in about 40 states were essentially disenfranchised by the candidates because polls showed these states to be leaning too favorably toward one candidate or another. So the Obama and Romney camps spent their time and money on the “swing states,” where polls showed the race too close to call — thereby making, for example, an Ohio voter more valuable than a New Mexican.

Those who favor the Electoral College argue that it’s important to protect the rights of smaller states — giving them more influence over the election and its outcome. True enough, if those small states are swing states, but we fail to see this as justification for retaining such an antiquated and unnecessary system. In fact, one of the great distortions caused by the Electoral College is that the states appear to be divided strictly along Republican and Democratic party lines, when that’s really not the case. In reality the nation’s political divisions tend to be urban and rural, not big-state-little-state, with Democrats strongest in the cities while Republicans dominate most of the countryside.

Let’s face it, with the Electoral College, some votes count more than others. But if it were eliminated and our next president was elected strictly by popular vote, the entire strategy for getting elected would change for the better. No more would a state be ignored because of polling; instead, every vote really would count. That’s the way it should be.